The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

This page describes The Perfection of Renunciation (nekkhamma-parami) contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as on Pāramitā. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).

(3) Third Pāramī: The Perfection of Renunciation (nekkhamma-pāramī)

Nekkhamma means renunciation which is here synonymous with emancipation. Emancipation is of two kinds: emancipation from cycle of existences (saṃsāra) and emancipation from sense-desire (kāma), the former being the result of the latter. Only when emancipation from sense-desire has been achieved through practice, can one gain emancipation from saṃsāra. Of these two kinds of emancipation, it is for the purpose of the resultant emancipation (from existences) that the Buddha expounds in the Buddhavaṃsa Text, likening the three states of existence[1] to prisons.

Essential Meaning of Perfection of Renunciation

According to the Cariyāpiṭaka Commentary, Perfection of Renunciation, in terms of Abhidhamma, is wholesome consciousness together with mental concomitants that arises by virtue of emancipation from sense-desire and from the three states of existence. The Mahā Niddesa describes two kinds of sense-desire: pleasant objects of sense-desire (vatthukāma), and mental defilement of greed which is desire for pleasant objects (kilesa-kāma). With reference to Perfection of Renunciation, emancipation from sense-desire means emancipation from both kinds of sense-desire.

How to be Mindful to achieve Emancipation

How to achieve emancipation from bonds of kilesa-kāma is explained in the Mahā Niddesa Pāli:

Addasam kāma te mūlam sankappā kāma jāyasi
na tam sankappayissāmi evam kāma na hohisi

O greed, I have seen your source; you arise from my thoughts of pleasant objects of sense (Kāma Vitakka). No more will I think of any pleasant object of sense. Then, O greed, you will arise no more.

In this connection, three kinds of wrong thought and three kinds of right thought should be understood. The three kinds of wrong thought are:

(i) Kāma Vitakka, sensuous thought, i.e. thinking of pleasant objects as desirable things;
(ii) Byāpāda Vitakka, hateful thought, i.e. thinking of harming others, and
(iii) Vihimsā Vitakka, cruel thought, i.e. thinking of torturing others.

The three kinds of right thought are:

(i) Nekkhamma Vitakka, thought of renunciation, i.e. thinking of emancipating oneself from sensuous objects.
(ii) Avyāpāda Vitakka, thought of hatelessness, i.e. thinking of others with lovingkindness. and
(iii) Avihimsā Vitakka, thought of non-violence, i.e. thinking of others with compassion.

The source of greed (kilesa kāma), on close examination is found to lie in sensuous thought (Kāma Vitakka) which is one of the three wrong thoughts. As long as one keeps on thinking of sensuous thought, greed continues to multiply and there is no emancipation from that mental defilement of greed. Only when one ceases to think of pleasant objects of sense-desire, greed will not arise and one achieves emancipation. Therefore, as stated above, one should be mindful to be free from mental defilement of greed. Just as freedom from sense-desire leads to freedom from cycle of saṃsāra, even so, making efforts to free oneself from greed results in freedom from pleasant objects of sense-desire.

The characteristics, functions, manifestations and proximate causes of this Perfection of Renunciation and of the remaining ones are dealt in the Chapter: On Miscellany.

Relation between Renunciation and The Life of A Bhikkhu

The Cariyapiṭaka Commentary defines ‘nekkhamma’: “Nekkhammam pabbajja-mūlakam.” This definition can be interpreted in two ways: “Emancipation has a bhikkhu's life as its cause,” and “Emancipation is the cause of a bhikkhu's life.” The first interpretation, namely, a bhikkhu's life as a cause of emancipation is in consonance with the narration in the Mahā Janaka Jātaka. King Mahā Janaka first acquired requisites of robes, a bowl etc. without the knowledge of his Queen, lesser Queens and royal attendants and he then went up to the upper terrace of his palace and became a bhikkhu; thereafter, he renounced the world. In this instance, the Bodhisatta Mahā Janaka became a bhikkhu before he made the renunciation. Therefore, it may be said that the bhikkhu's life is the cause and renunciation is the effect.

The second interpretation, namely, emancipation as a cause of bhikkhu's life, is in consonance with the stories of Sumedha the Wise, the Hatthipāla brothers, etc. Sumedha the Wise, first went forth and reaching Dhammika Mountain, found a dwelling place readily prepared by Sakka, King of Devas. Then only he became a bhikkhu. Similarly, the Hatthipala brothers went forth first and when pursued by the whole country led by royal parents, they became bhikkhus. Therefore, it may be said renunciation of Sumedha the Wise, Hatthipāla brothers etc. is the cause and the bhikkhu's life is the effect.

The Cariyāpitaka Commentary gives the exposition in accordance with the first interpretation. (This is mentioned in detail in the Chapter: On Miscellany.) Though Sumedha the Wise, the Hatthipāla brothers, etc. renounced the world first and became bhikkhus afterwards, they did so only because they wanted a bhikkhu's life. Therefore, even though renunciation took place first, it may be said that a bhikkhu's life which follows later is the real cause. (For example, to construct a building, the wood is cut first. Although cutting of wood precedes construction, the wood is cut with the intention of constructing the building, Therefore, it should be said the desire to build the building is the cause and cutting of the wood is its effect.)

Five Kinds of Forest Dwelling

As expounded in the Vinaya Parivāra Ekuttarikanaya pañcaka and Upāli Pañha, Dhutanga Vagga, forest dwelling is of five kinds:

i) Dwelling in the forest because of stupidity, dullness of mind, not knowing the advantages and their causes;

ii) Dwelling in the forest with an evil desire, “If I go and dwell in the forest, people will support me generously as a forest dweller”;

iii) Dwelling in the forest because of insanity;

iv) Dwelling in the forest because the practice is praised by the Buddhas and the virtuous; and

v) Dwelling in the forest because one has few wishes, contentment and such virtues. Only the last two of these kinds of forest dwelling are praiseworthy.

Perfection of Renunciation is not a matter of where one lives. Defilement of sense-desire (kilesa-kāma), craving for pleasant sensuous objects, is liable to arise anywhere. This defilement of sense-desire should be eradicated wherever it appears and not be permitted to thrive. Emancipation from defilement of sense-desire by eradication in this way is the true characteristic of renunciation.

As for Emancipation from pleasant objects of sense-desire, there are examples of Sumedha the Wise, the Hatthipala brothers etc. who went forth as far as the Himalayas. Therefore, it may be asked whether it is necessary for those who wish to fulfil Perfection of Renunciation (Emancipation from pleasant objects of sense-desire) to go forth as far as the Himalayas. One should do so if possible, or if one wishes to or if circumstances favour.

In the Jātaka Stories concerning renunciation, the majority went forth up to the Himalayas. They did so as circumstances were favourable to them.

According to the Maghadeva Jātaka of the Ekaka Nipata and the Nimi Jātaka of the Mahā Nipata, the continuous line of rulers numbering eighty-four thousand, beginning with King Maghadeva to King Nimi, went forth from household life to homeless one as soon as a single hair on the head turned grey. However, none of them went up to the Himalayas. They repaired only to the royal mango grove near their capital city of Mithila. It is said that by strenuous practice of meditation they attained jhānas and were reborn in Brahmā realms. It is evident from these stories that, although not travelling as far as the Himalayas, just leaving the place, where mental defilement of greed thrives, is sufficient for successful fulfilment of Perfection of Renunciation. The eighty-four thousand kings such as Maghadeva completely abandoned their luxurious palaces, and by living in the mango grove, their Perfection of Renunciation was fulfilled.

Therefore, Perfection of Renunciation can be fulfilled by anyone who abandons completely the place where his mental defilement of greed flourishes and without establishing such new resorts, dwells in a suitable place free from such defilement. Two Kinds of Renunciation

Renunciation of Bodhisattas is of two kinds:

(i) Renunciation when they are young (and single), and
(ii) Renunciation when they are old (and married).

Sumedha the Wise, the Hatthipāla brothers, etc. renounced the worldly life to escape from (bonds of) pleasant objects of sense-desire, namely, luxuries of their palaces or homes. Although the Jātakas referred to them as examples of those who fulfilled the Perfection of Renunciation, they were then mere youths still unmarried. They were possessors of pleasant objects of sense-desire, but it may be said that their ties to them were not so strong. Only older people living a household life with wife and children are tightly bound with these fetters of vatthu-kāma. In this connection, it may be said that renunciation by old married people is more difficult than that by younger persons. But some could point out that the renunciation by the Bodhisatta Prince Temiya, made at a time when he was only sixteen and unmarried was really an arduous one. But his difficulty arose not from the bonds of pleasant objects of sense-desire but from the great troubles of having to pretend to be cripple, deaf and dumb to make his renunciation possible. Therefore, although he faced much difficulty when contriving to make his renunciation, when he actually did so, he encountered little difficulty because he had only few fetters of pleasant objects of sense desire.

The Atthasālini gives, in the chapter on Perfection of Renunciation, full accounts of pāramī fulfilled by the Bodhisatta when he was Prince Somanassa, Prince Hatthipāla, Prince Ayoghara, etc. in innumerable existences. The Commentary gives the special names of Paramattha Pāramī, Supreme Perfection, to the Perfection of Renunciation fulfilled by King Cūla Sutasoma.

In the case of Prince Somanassa, Prince Ayoghara, Prince Hatthipāla, and Prince Temiya, they were youthful persons at the time of their renunciation. Renunciation by King Mahā Janaka was more difficult than theirs because he was an older and married man. He became a bhikkhu without the knowledge of his Queen, lesser Queens and royal attendants. And only at the time of renunciation that he faced difficulty, as he was pursued by his Queens and retinue to persuade him to return to them. They had not taken any measures to ensure that he would not go forth as a bhikkhu or renounce the worldly life.

As for the eighty-four thousand kings, such as Maghadeva, they openly and publicly declared their intention to renounce. In spite of the entreaties of their families, they refused to yield and made their renunciation. But they did not go very far. They dwelt in their own mango groves near their palaces.

In contrast to them, King Cūla Sutasoma announced his intention of leaving the world as he was deeply stirred by spiritual sense of urgency on seeing a grey hair on his head. Although his Queens, royal parents and the assembled citizens prayed in tears to him to give up his plan, he remained firm and indifferent to their earnest pleas and went away till he reached the Himalayas. Therefore, renunciation of King Cūla Sutasoma was far more powerful than those of King Maghadeva, etc. On this account, the Commentator has described the Perfection of Renunciation fulfilled by King Cūla Sutasoma as of the highest type, Paramattha Pāramī.

Footnotes and references:


The three states of exsstence are: (a) Kāma-bhava, the state of sensual existence, (b) Rūpabhava, the state of fine material existence and (c) Arūpa-bhava, the states of formless, nonmaterial existence.

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